Eric Burdon & The Animals - When I Was Young (The MGM Recordings 1967 – 1968) (Esoteric Recordings)

Eric Burdon & The Animals – When I Was Young (The MGM Recordings 1967 – 1968) (Esoteric Recordings)

There is a house in New Orleans, They call the Rising Sun, And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy, And God I know I’m one.”

It is a line that will first come to mind when many hear mention of The Animals (although their career included many more that may also spark memories). Well, this was released in 1964, the middle point of the band’s career, but in 1966 they had run aground musically, and founding member Eric Burdon, with psychedelic patterns at the forefront of his mind, wanted to explore the genre of Psychedelic rock, so set about doing so by gathering like-minded musicians to not only explore the genre but record some cracking tunes to boot.

This box-set features 5 discs, which comprise 4 albums released during the period 1967 to 1968, only 2 years, but a highly prolific period not only exploring psychedelia but writing much of what would go on to inspire much of what would be heard in the years that would follow. It commences with ‘Winds Of Change‘, their first MGM long-player, which also finalises this set in Mono form. But first to the Stereo version, and to call it some ride would be underestimating the content. Kicking off with the title track and a sitar opening, this tune is like a cry to all that had gone before them, citing forerunners and paying tribute, something A House were to do later with ‘Endless Art‘, but with its gentle beat, sitar, and Burdon’s vocal playing preacher, this must’ve been something quite out-there in ’67 (psychedelic drug use notwithstanding!)
This album is quite something and what an album should be; an immersive experience of well crafted songs that read like poetry and music. 9/10

The Twain Shall Meet is the second long-playing offering and following the band’s performance at the Monterey festival in June earlier that year, Burdon recounts the experience in ‘Monterey‘, then cross phases into ‘Just A Thought‘, and you can feel the winds of the hippy movement blowing through the recording session on the occasion. But rather disappointingly this moves rather clumsily into its successor ‘Closer To The Truth‘, as the number plays out in a blues feel until the listener arrives at ‘Sky Pilot‘. With the orchestral shrills a la Sgt Pepper, released earlier that same year, it does become clear who might be inspiring who. As we come to the album’s close, the music encourages its audience to sit cross-legged, as sitar meets cello and another reminder that 1967 isn’t quite over, the augmented chords similar to those used on The Beatles ‘Within You Without You‘ meeting the ear. This is not plagiarism, more likely inspiration, and it is wonderful to rewind, hearing this snapshot in time. A further 3 additional tracks have been added, Parts One & Two of ‘Sky Pilot‘ – A’s & B sides of its stereo version released in 1968, and a mono version of ‘Monterey‘ released in May of that year. The album isn’t as engaging as its predecessor, perhaps a little floppy in its recording, yet still worthwhile. 8/10

Every One Of Us‘ follows, released originally in May 1968. The social commentary of ‘White Houses‘ opens the album, a 7 track affair, with only a single additional track adding to its original content. It is interesting to note that this first track was speaking of the misuse of drugs, at a time when many were seeking to explore boundaries outside those of the physical. ‘Uppers and Downers‘ follows, but not a number as you might expect, more a case of ‘The Grand Old Duke Of York‘ reworked, or not even that, perhaps merely a happy trip retold, then ‘Serenade To A Sweet Lady‘ gets us back on track, or maybe a hippy-track is closer to the truth, Spanish guitar soloing for 6 minutes. By this point, it’s worth mentioning that the re-recordings across this set have been remastered from the original master tapes and done extremely well, with stereo imaging leaping from the speakers (though obviously not on the mono discs). ‘The Immigrant Lad‘ is another example of Burdon’s poetic phrasing, accompanied by picked guitar, although rounding off with dialogue, almost an example of what I saw as 50’s cinema, with a scene similar to that from ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning‘ being played out, as the central character, a northern boy, enters a London pub, has a very non-pc conversation with a punter, complete with bleeps wiping out the expletives used; I was lost in this entertaining set. Psychedelia picks up the pace as ‘Year Of The Guru‘ continues into the album, with prose worthy of a master, as further social commentary is provided, complete with psychedelic guitar and piano break. I said earlier that I was lost in the cinematic performance on ‘…Immigrant Lad‘, well it’s becoming clear that I am getting lost in this whole presentation, as another example of Eric Burdon’s Animals presents yet another fine album’s worth of words and psychedelia. The guitar break becomes the central character, worthy of the finest bluesman. The album closes with the epic 18-minute ‘New York 1963 – America 1968‘, an immigrant’s tale of coming to America, with an immersive musical backing. Highlighting the juxtaposition midway through this number, the musician enters into another cinematic dialogue, although in this case from the newcomer’s perspective and as we ride this out; it’s almost as if I’m listening to Roger Daltrey performing a solo from an English standpoint, played to an American bluesman, all I can say is enthralling and extremely well written and performed. 9/10

I guess this would have to be the final album of the set if it were not for the mono version of ‘Winds Of Change‘ that follows, but ‘Love Is‘ was released in December of 1968 and enters the fore with a number first recorded by Ike & Tina Turner. ‘River Deep, Mountain High‘ is, as I see it, a halfway house between the blues that first earned Eric Burdon his supper and the psychedelic whimsy that the later sixties would become. ‘I’m An Animal‘ follows, evidently referencing Burdon’s birth as a musician, as his backing singers start singing the title, with Burdon adding to this by explanation of what he’ll do, and all this due to rock and roll! Something I’m getting from this is Michael Hutchence and the magnetism he set out when alive, bringing this recording into the present day. On the next number, ‘I’m Dying, Or Am I?‘ he sings the line; “there are many people like me… on this manufactured train… trying to satisfy people… God knows I’m dying”. It’s here that you can hear an artist who may not be entirely happy with his lot. Then we enter into Johnny Cash‘s ‘Ring Of Fire‘, and although we are only four tracks into this album, the choice here seems quite fitting. By this point, any psychedelic pretenses have succumbed to the devil’s rock’n’roll, be this by the artist’s own actions or pharmaceutical ones. By ‘Coloured Rain‘ and its fuzzed-out instrumentation, things may not be entirely going to plan. With more, albeit very well presented cover versions, this is no longer the artist’s album, but a jam, as they get lost in anything that might be at hand. If anything it turns into a self-indulgent romp, at one point even referencing his star sign, as ‘Gemini‘ kicks in, closing with ‘The Madman (Running Through The Fields)‘, a psychedelic journey closing the album proper, although a claustrophobic mono version of ‘River Deep, Mountain High‘, does this itself, featuring a series of wild notes played on keyboard. 8/10

The original mono version of Winds Of Change brings this set to a close as perhaps a more authentic way of listening to this album. In 1967 Stereo would have been considered like watching a 4K flat panel today. I suppose if I were to sit on cushions while burning juniper I might get a better idea of what it was really like. That said, it can’t take away from this album’s immersive content and there is no other way of traveling back to 1967 – this album epitomises the time. This was to be the final album by the group and following this Burdon was to stay in America, joining forces with the group War in 1969. When I was Young is surely a fitting tribute to the group. 9/10.

It would be churlish if I were not to mention the desirable way in which this boxset has been issued. All 5 discs come in hard full-colour slipcase, with the 5 CDs in mini LP-style sleeves. If this weren’t enough, it also comes with a full-colour reproduction poster, along with a replica book, featuring an original essay by Malcolm Dome, written in November 2019, so if you’ve only experienced ‘House Of The Rising Sun‘ or maybe ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place‘ or ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood‘, then please give this version of The Animals the opportunity to cast their spell – you won’t be disappointed.

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